There are some shows, books, and/or anime that have few unique elements to them that just grabs the viewer’s attention, especially when it comes to the horror genre. You see, I do not watch a whole ton of horror anime because of how cliché and overly gory the scenes can get, but the anime I am reviewing in this post, Yamishibai, does not have that much gore, yet it gives the audience that same uneasiness one would find in any other gory show.
For those who do not know what Yamishibai means, it is the name for Japanese ghost stories or if you want to go by translating the title, “Theatre of Darkness.” In Japan, a man in a mask narrates various horror tales, called Kamishibais, as he travels to different places such as a playground or annual festival.
In this creepy anime, there is no set plot because each four and a half minute episode has a different horror tale, with different settings and characters, which makes the anime really interesting. Anyone who watches this series will probably remember the episodes just based off of the atmospheres and the scary scenes behind the short viewings. For example, in an episode from season one, there is a teacher who stays late after school to finish some paperwork, but then she finds hair being printed onto her paper! Then the printer starts printing copies on its own, with more hair seen on the papers! It’s truly creepy and will keep the audience on the edge of their seats.
As for the newest season, the episodes start to change; even the narrator for the episodes is different. Instead of having episodes that are suspenseful and unsettling, these episodes became boring and tiring to watch, with little to no eerie elements to create a wonderful, episodic horror tale. Also, the narrator does not have that sardonic, bone-chilling tone to narrate the episodes from time to time. In the previous seasons, the narrator tells the viewers about the main character focused in that episode, but the fourth season has the storyteller narrating almost the whole episode. Sure, Kamishibai stories are supposed to be narrated, but learning about the scary tales from the characters’ perspectives makes the show worth watching.
I did not mention this at the beginning of the review, but Yamishibai stands at one of the most underrated anime in the world, yet many otakus know about it. “Why?” Some of you are probably asking. Well, it’s because the animation is not like what one would see in a normal anime, especially when it comes to the movement of the characters. To put it bluntly, they move like those Popsicle-stick paper puppets a little child would make in school…with some CGI added into the mix. At first, I almost did not watch the series because of the animation, but after watching the first episode, I grew to admire it. The movements create that eerie and creepy element the audience will be disturbed and scared by…in a good way. Some examples include these…
In addition, the backgrounds and character designs look roughly sketched like one would see American graphic novel, just the way a horror anime should have, especially in the newest season. Overall, the animation stays on point pretty much until the fourth season because of budget cuts for the animators. Instead of creating the most creepy looking pictures, they are replaced with live-action clips, which will make the viewers start to strongly dislike the art and animation.
Since this series is extremely underrated, there is not an English Dub available to the ones who enjoy watching anime in the English language, but I prefer to keep this that way. To be honest, having an English Dub for this anime will kill the hair-raising vibe horror fans love and get even less views, especially if the casting directors do not choose the right actor to narrate the episodes. Fans would not want another narrator like the one in season four, right?
In conclusion, Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories is one of those unique gems one would find hidden deep in a cave, but then rusts just the tiniest bit when he or she does not take care of it well. Now, because the fourth season does not have that huge bang it does not mean the viewers should ignore it; there are some decent episodes in the series that can leave the audience just as frightened as the other episodes in the previous seasons, which is why I gave this series a four out of five stars. If the newest season had not been filled with the bits of live action scenes and added more creative episodes, then I could have given the series a perfect score. I really hope that if there is a fifth season airing, then the episodes will be better than the ones from the newest season.
This anime is not one for viewers of all ages to watch; there are a ton of jump scares and scary looking scenes that could potentially give the viewers nightmares at night. If you want to step up and view the horrific gem, then I would suggest watching this anime in the dark to have the best experience with Yamishibai.
Series aired: July 14, 2013 – now